Reviews

The Brotherhood of Poland, NH

James Oliphant

Small towns of America have enough on their plate. Do they really need David Kelley piling on?


The Brotherhood of Poland, Nh

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Randy Quaid, John Carroll Lynch, Chris Penn, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth McGovern, Ann Cusack
Display Artist: David E. Kelley, Michael Pressman
Network: CBS
Creator: Michael Pressman
Amazon

The West Nile Virus. Crystal Meth. Empty factories. Lyme Disease. Wal-Mart. Small towns of America have enough on their plate. Do they really need David Kelley piling on?

The answer, of course, lies in the prolific producer's latest offering: Kelley seems to feel the urge. The setting of his new family drama, The Brotherhood of Poland, NH, is, by all accounts, the most miserable small town in the most miserable state in the United States. Kelley, the show's creator, grew up in a small New England town and (you don't need your state college psych degree for this one) must have hated it.

What else explains this ensemble piece that tastes as sour as poorly pressed apple cider? Brotherhood comes off as Kelley's equivalent to the millionaire who travels all the way to his high school reunion just to tell everyone to go screw themselves. If the residents of Poland weren't fictional, they might want to consider a defamation action.

At the series' center are the three Shaw brothers, middle-aged, balding, portly, and lifelong residents of the Granite State. Hank (Randy Quaid) is the mope-faced police chief, Garrett (John Carroll Lynch) is the town's sullen mayor, and Waylon (Chris Penn) is the downcast youngest brother too stupid to land a job selling lamps. (This is the script talking.) While Waylon would appear to be a perfectly nice man (he likes children and animals), his older brothers have such an unveiled contempt for him that you wonder why he doesn't leave Poland for bigger and better things in Portsmouth or Nashua or some place where the sun shines.

It doesn't help matters, though, that our introduction to Waylon comes as he is taping his buttocks together in order to look more buff for his interview at the lamp store. But, hey, that's the golden Kelley Touch, right? The insertion of the outrageous within the vicissitudes of everyday life. His now lengthy television career has been filled with series that resemble each other so closely in spirit, if not surroundings, that his entire portfolio reads as one gigantic Cross-Dressing Dwarf Having An Affair With The Lead Actor/Actress While Suing His Employer For Sexual Harassment Over An Unwanted Touching Involving A Common Household Object.

Kelley, a lawyer who got his start in TV as a writer for L.A. Law, has since overseen two kinds of programs: serious-minded individuals who do ridiculous things (The Practice, Picket Fences, Boston Public) and ridiculous people who do ridiculous things (Ally McBeal, Girls Club). All of them share one common ingredient: sex talk. Like a 17-year-old performance artist, Kelley (who writes most of the scripts) confuses shock with art. His work has the effect of stumbling across a Playboy in a doctor's waiting room. At first, you're intrigued, even titillated. But by the 10th page, you're ready for National Geographic.

In the debut episode of this new CBS series (rejected by Fox, by the way. What other warning sign do you need?), Kelley hits the ground fast. Waylon, asking his wife Julie (Ann Cusack) to tape his buttocks together, is told that he can "forget about fellatio for the next couple of months." The f-word on primetime! Send grandma to bed before her angina acts up!

Meanwhile, the other brothers have problems more serious than a loose ass and a ban on oral pleasure. Police chief Hank is having sexual dysfunction issues with his wife Dottie (Mare Winningham, on a temporary sabbatical from uplifting TV movies). Seems ol' Hank has been TiVoing the Today Show in order to whack off to the perky visage of Katie Couric. (The only hotter thing than TiVo, incidentally, is name-dropping it as a plot device. See also Sex and the City.) They're in therapy (Hank and Dottie, not Hank and Katie). And Mayor Garrett is being blackmailed by a woman with whom he had an affair years earlier. "My one brush with prestige," his former paramour tells him, "came with your penis." All this before the first commercial break. Welcome to KelleyLand, everyone. We validate.

As unappealing as the Shaw brothers maybe, Kelley doesn't seem to have much use for their wives either. It strains credulity already that the three Shaw femmes, attractive and capable, would marry, much less stay with, these rope-a-dopes. But Kelley, who wrote the first episode, seems determined to humiliate them. Winningham and McGovern (who has slimmed down so much from her fresh-faced We're Having A Baby days that she might be entering Lara Flynn Boyle's range. Is this another Kelley Effect?) are forced to engage in an embarrassing restaurant scene discussing their lack of sexual satisfaction. Ultimately, to satiate her husband's sexual peccadilloes, DOTTIE must dress like... well, not Matt Lauer. (She also, if the promo for the second week's episode is any indication, will be singing every week. She's some sort of Northern New Hampshire Joni Mitchell. Seriously.)

This is a show in which one of the brothers' teenage daughter announces at a family dinner that she has lost her virginity in order to keep the conversation light. And it's not afraid of a good fart joke. Kelley visited the small town milieu once before in Picket Fences -- perhaps his most nuanced creation -- and seems to have left his original ideas back in Rome, Wisconsin. Unlike its Ben and Jerry's-lovin' neighbor, Vermont, the liberal land of milk and honey, New Hampshire has never gotten a great shake. Paul Schrader's Affliction (1997) made the case that the worst thing you could do in New Hampshire was to stay there. Brotherhood appears to second that motion.

It isn't the whole picture. I once lived in small town along the New Hampshire border and everyone there seemed friendly, well adjusted, and, dare I say, almost Capraesque, almost entirely untouched by fatalism or eccentricity. Portraying small towns as inviting places to live might not be the most provocative thing for a Hollywood writer who never saw a berg he couldn't fly over to do, but it just might be the honest one. But that wouldn't make it in David Kelley's universe, where, sex and honesty rarely have anything do with one another.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.